The Old City
Roughly divided into four quarters – Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and Christian – the Old City is home to the city’s main historical attractions. It’s here you’ll find the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall. Specifically, you’ll want to see:
The Western Wall
Known as the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City is regarded as the holiest site in the world for Jews. Essentially it’s a bare stone wall that was built by Herod the Great in 20 BC as part of the Second Temple compound. History buffs will already know that the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, but the wall continued to be revered by Jews as a place imbued with the Divine Presence. The Kotel’s story is also inextricably tied up with modern Israeli history. It was cut off from the Jewish population in 1948 when Jordan seized control of the Old City, but was regained during 1967’s Six Day War. There’s now a large pedestrian plaza in front of the wall that serves as an open air synagogue. Visitors must be modestly dressed and men must cover their heads. Women and men can approach the wall but must do so within the appropriate male or female section.
Up close you’ll see the tiny balled up notes that have been stuck into every available cranny of the wall – it’s believed that prayers inserted into the wall have a good chance of being answered.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Via Dolorosa
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, according to legend, stands over Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. As such it’s a major stop on the pilgrims trial. The Church itself, visitors will agree, will probably not be what you expected, especially if you’re used to the grandeur of European churches. It’s dark, crowded and a bit shabby inside, but that’s all part of the experience. Just inside the entrance to the left was the high bench where the Muslim doorkeeper used to sit – for years, a Muslim kept control of the keys to the church to prevent disputes between Christian sects over the holy site. It’s not the case anymore, but the church remains distinctly divided between denominations and arguments and scuffles are not unheard of.
The Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow) and the Stations of the Cross allow pilgrims to retrace the believed steps of Jesus between his condemnation by Pilate and his crucifixion and burial. A weekly procession along the Via Dolorosa is led by Franciscans Fathers at 3pm on Fridays.
Open: 5am-8pm seven days a week April to September, 5am-7pm seven days a week October to March
Dome of the Rock
Possibly Jerusalem’s most photographed site, the Dome of the Rock sits atop Islam’s third holiest shrine – the Haram el-Sharif (“Noble Sanctuary”), or Temple Mount.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a mosque, The Dome of the Rock is a shrine built over a sacred stone, which is believed to be the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven during his Night Journey to heaven.
Completed in 691 AD, the Dome of the Rock’s roof was he great golden dome that crowns the Dome of the Rock was originally made of gold, but was replaced with copper and then aluminium. It’s now covered with gold leaf, a donation from the late King Hussein of Jordan. It’s possible to visit the Dome of the Rock by purchasing a ticket during set hours, which are subject to change, although you’ll only be admitted if you are wearing appropriately modest clothing and bring your passport – security is tight!
Open: 7am-11am and 1.30pm-2.30pm Sunday to Thursday
Jerusalem’s new city looks older than it is thanks to the planning regulation that forbids any building except if its made from glowing cream Jerusalem stone. The new city is often overlooked by tourists, but it’s a vibrant living place that will reward you for spending time getting to know it.
Undoubtedly the best and most moving museum and shrine dedicated to the victims of the Nazi Holocaust, Yad Vashem was completed rebuilt, refreshed and reopened in 2005 to great acclaim for its attempts at bringing a human dimension to this black period of history.
Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust and Yad Vashem tells their story in a meaningful and dignified way. Yad Vashem is also the world’s leading repository of Holocaust information and a study and research centre. It’s also home to a memorial for the Righteous Among the Nations – a tree-lined boulevard that commemorates and marks the role played by individual Gentiles in saving Jews during the Holocaust.
Open: 9am-5pm Sunday to Wednesday, 9am-8pm Thursdasy, 9am-2pm Fridays
Closed: Saturdays and Jewish Holidays
Machane Yehuda Market
Israel’s biggest and most bustling food market, Machane Yehuda is the place to go once you’ve worked up an appetite for something delicious and unpredictable. This market, or Shuk as it’s known in Hebrew, is rammed with stalls hawking everything from the freshest fruit and veg to the most delectable falafels and flaky pastry burekas. Come on Friday morning to experience it at its most crazy pre-Sabbath best.
Open: 8am-7pm Sunday to Thursday, 8am-3pm Fridays